Quick! What is the easiest way to fight poverty? If you said buy stuff, you are close to being right. Every time you purchase a product, you are not only supporting the people who made or cultivated the item, but the trail of supported jobs continues to those who distributed the goods and retailed them.
But what if you knew that the farmer or producer of your favorite coffee or clothing line got next to nothing for their efforts, and all the money from your purchase was in effect supporting unfair working conditions, and environmental and community destruction? Being the fair person you are, you undoubtably are torn as you do not want to support unfair trade, but a daily dose of chocolate is a must!
So how to solve the dilemma of not screwing people but rather lifting them out of poverty, all the while still getting your needs met? If you want to join the cool group, you can enter the world of a fair trade…
Fair trade started in America with one visionary women, Edna Ruth Byler, in 1946. Sixty years later, “ethical consumerism” in the form of fair trade has become a global movement involving over 60 countries, 1.5 million workers, a growth rate of 48% in 2007, and global sales over $4 billion in 2008. The U.S. is now home to thirteen “Fair Trade Towns,” and over 300 college campuses with fair trade groups.
Not to be outdone by the average Joe, celebrities are now also adding their support to fair trade. Actress Emma Watson, (of Harry Potter fame), has just launched a line of a fair trade clothing with People Tree; Britain’s First Lady, Sarah Brown, declared her home a “Fair Trade Home” in October of 2009; and our own First Lady, Michelle Obama, is being invited by thousands of people worldwide to make America’s most prominent home, the White House, become a “Fair Trade Home.”
You might ask, what is Fair Trade? In its simplest form, fair trade is an alternative way of doing trade. Trade where the people producing a product are treated fairly, paid fairly, and are being fair to the environment.
The history of fair trade proves once again that one person can make a difference in our world. While volunteering for the Mennonite Central Committee in 1946, Edna Ruth Byler made a fate-filled trip to Puerto Rico. There she met a group of local women who, while trapped in poverty, produced totally amazing linen needlework. Byler was struck by the idea that if these women could sell their goods in larger quantities to new audiences, their lives would improve through trade. Acting on that notion, Byler took home some of their handicrafts, quickly sold the items to friends and neighbors, made a very, very, very small fortune which was reinvested into the Puerto Rican artisans.
Fast-forward over sixty years, and you will find that Byler’s business grew into a storefront, which developed into a chain of 160 stores across the U.S. that is now called Ten Thousand Villages and the fair trade movement has gained international momentum with the formation of an international body, Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO).
Benefits of Fair Trade
Was Byler’s experiment a success? The fair trade model has a proven track record of helping win the war on poverty. Poverty overwhelmingly affects women and children. Fair trade standards counter poverty in those sectors by advocating women’s rights in the workplace, and disallowing child labor. To make sure that communities are built up, direct relationships are established between fair trade producers and distributors, which cuts out the cost of “middlemen.” This savings is invested back into the communities of fair trade farmers and/or workers in the form of educational opportunities, child care, health care and a higher household income. The price of the product is not raised, but rather reinvested into individuals and communities around the world.
Outside of breaking the chain of poverty, fair trade standards are wholistic in their care for the environment and in producing a quality product. Soil and water conservation, natural fertilizers, and farm management protocol must be developed by fair trade farmers. Natural resources and recyclable materials are often a part of the materials used by fair trade artisans.
Which Products are Fair Trade?
While you might think of coffee when you think fair trade, the great news is that the movement has grown to include sports balls, body-care, fresh fruit, juice, beverages, tea, herbs, cotton goods, furniture, clothing, shoes and more.
You can see which products or companies are abiding by fair trade guidelines due to the use of product labels. Labels to look for that guarantee products are the Fair Trade Certified (TM) label by TransFair, or the Fair For Life label by Institute for Marketecology. Each of these labels tells the consumer that a product was cultivated under fair trade guidelines, or that it contains fair trade ingredients. The Fair Trade Federation provides a membership for companies who are committed to fair trade, but does not certify either companies or products.
Celebrating Fair Trade
Hopefully you are so stoked over the fact that you can easily cut down on global poverty through the purchase of fair trade goods that you are ready to declare your home a “Fair Trade Home” in honor of World Fair Trade Day, May 8th, 2010.
The fair trade community has been ingenious in its use of events to inform and inspire consumers. World Fair Trade Day is celebrated each May on the second Saturday. This year, not only is the First Lady being invited to declare her home a “Fair Trade Home,” you are also invited. Purchase fair trade products and declare your home fair trade by posting a photo of yourself by May 8th with your favorite fair trade product at Fair Trade My Home.
Making the world a better place really comes down to simple, everyday purchases, such as a lip balm or a cup of coffee.**
Karen Snyder is the CEO of Ka-Zap!, a sales and marketing firm in Los Angeles, CA. One of her clients is Anti-Body, LLC, a fair trade body-care company. In addition, she is the Campaign Director for Fair Trade the White House and Fair Trade My Home.
Visit these websites to learn more about fair trade and browse fair trade products: